Recap: “Dr. Frankenstein” hits the stage

The Science Play Festival continues with a new twist to an original play

At the second showing of the 2nd Annual Science Play Festival, “Dr. Frankenstein” came to the stage on Jan. 30. “Dr. Frankenstein” is a stage adaptation of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” written by Selma Dimitrijevic. In this adaptation, the character of Dr. Victor Frankenstein is turned into a woman by the name of Victoria. It also goes in depth in what it would have meant to be a woman in the sciences in the 19th century, 1831-32 A.D. to be exact. The plot of “Dr. Frankenstein” is very similar to that of the book with slight deviations and a different ending, reflecting the change to our main character’s gender. If you’re familiar with the plot of “Frankenstein,” you should expect what will happen, except for the end.

This play has two acts with a ten minute intermission in between. It’s set in the early 1830s in England and Germany. The cast is made up of some CNU alumni and people from the Virginia area. The crew has one CNU student, one faculty member and one CNU alumni. “Dr. Frankenstein” was done as a play reading, meaning there were no costumes, no action or moving around on stage and no props; there was just the actors sitting on stage reading their lines. There was a keynote speaker beforehand who talked about women in science and this event. The director also had a few words to say and introduced the cast.

At the beginning of Act one, we meet all of our characters, and their dynamics are established. Set in the family’s home in England, Mary, the servant, and Victoria have a discussion about God and of Mary’s mother. Then we transition to another setting in Germany. We see Victoria experiment on a rabbit and talk to her soon-to-be brother-in-law about her life in Germany and her work. Her main purpose in Germany is to try to bring the dead back to life. Not so soon after, we see the rabbit become “alive” again, and we see the dead body hidden behind the curtain move. In a flashback set in England, Mary and Victoria speak about Mary’s dead husband. Henry and Victoria talk about Victoria’s life, which is a continuation of their earlier conversation about his feelings on her work. Victoria drinks and angrily talks to the dead body about her feelings towards being a woman. Then the dead body, now known as the creature, wakes up, and Victoria tries to experiment on him. He escapes, and she loses consciousness. The creature then looks at the audience. In another flashback, Mary sings a lullaby to Victoria. Back in England, Victoria is home and is sick with a fever in the care of her family. She then has a nightmare about her fear of her family not wanting her anymore. We then see the creature out in the world somewhere waiting for Victoria. This is the end of Act one, and then there is a ten minute intermission.

In Act two, we start with a monologue from the creature. One line he says is, “You think I can’t see you?” Victoria has been traveling and has just come home to England. She sees her family again, and they all talk about their lives. Victoria gives her father some matches, and then we learn William, Victoria’s brother, is dead. The creature has another monologue about his need for acceptance and human connection. We see Justine, William’s nanny, in a jail cell recounting what she saw when William died. She won’t lie and say it was a man who killed William, so she will be hung. Victoria comforts her and tells her it’s okay to tell the truth. The creature monologues again, and we learn how he got some of his scars. Victoria and Henry have an argument about William’s death and the creature, then about her work and morality. Father comes in and shares about Victoria’s dead mother. They all sit in silence to mourn Justine, and now Father and Victoria are arguing. Mary announces a visitor for Victoria, and we find out it is the creature. The creature and Victoria talk about his survival, their situation, his feelings and his desire for a family, which Victoria agrees to. Elizabeth and Victoria talk, and we learn their dead mother and Mary were friends. We learn what Elizabeth and Henry’s plans are. The creature has yet another monologue about the difference between him and other people and human nature. Back in Germany, Victoria is back in her old house and hears the voices of her family in her head. She finds the reanimated rabbit dead again, and cries. She goes to bed with the creature sitting at her bedside. Victoria wakes up, and she and the creature talk about the rabbit, how William really died (he drowned) and how the creature is starting to rot. Victoria reveals that she is not scared of the creature, unlike many others. The creature decides to help Victoria with her experiment by speaking of his experiences. At last, the play ends.

After the play there was a discussion about the play’s events and themes. The ending of the play is different from the source material because it is the creature that dies, not the scientist. The scientist and the creature also have a different relationship, a more positive relationship, partially due to the scientist being a woman who responds to the creature in a gentler manner. The main theme of the play was feminist in nature, in that it deals with a woman working in the sciences. There are many female relationships in the play that show the audience different portrayals of women that do not strive to bring each other down. Another theme was ethics in science; when it comes to experiments, what is the line between good and bad? Religion was also an important theme, due to many characters being religious, as well as how science and religion can relate to each other. The play shows the audience differing portrayals of how much the characters believe in religion. 

I really liked “Dr. Frankenstein” because it’s a new take on an old classic that explores themes relevant to today. The actors were very good, and there was a moment in Act two where I felt genuinely moved by the creature’s monologue about his need for acceptance. In most media, men usually do not express that sort of need, so it was refreshing to see it explored here. I had not read the book “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley before seeing this play, and all I knew of it was from popular culture. You don’t really need to know what the plot of “Frankenstein” is beforehand; it does help, but it’s not necessary. I thought the slight plot/ending changes and themes of the play made it one of the more intriguing adaptations of Mary Shelley’s book out there. I would love to see this play performed on stage one day; it would be an exciting show to watch.

~Shannon Garrett, Staff Writer~

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